Self Destruction In The Steel City

In the 80th minute I messaged the rest of the guys from the Pod and said, “man I think this is probably our most complete performance so far this season.” The catch, of course, being that 80 minutes isn’t a complete soccer game. Fifteen minutes later and that 2-0 lead had vanished entirely with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC stealing (steeling?) a 2-2 draw and an unlikely point at home with it.

Coach Smith opted for both formational and personnel changes ahead of what always looked like a difficult match in a notoriously difficult place to play. The formation was a 3-5-2 with Tribbett joining Doyle and Bourgeois in the backline. Washington and Kimura manned the flanks while Akinyode anchored a three man midfield alongside Reed and Lagrassa. Maybe most notable was the inclusion of Belmar up top alongside Rios. As Ben mentioned in his tweet pre game, these changes would allow...

At the 30 minute mark the game had mostly been the affair that we expected. Possession favored Pittsburgh 55-45, while Nashville had the only shot on goal at that point. Eleven minutes later, Matt LaGrassa’s effort to win a corner gave NSC their first lead of the match.

Great work from Bradley Bourgeois to keep the ball alive, but the finish was just absolutely first rate. Great to see Tribbett open his account for NSC. That brought to a close what ended up being a fairly dominate first half for NSC. While Riverhounds had some decent possession particularly in the first 15 minutes, the majority of that was spent in non danger areas and the stats back that up.

The opening twenty minutes of the second half saw an accumulation of fouls but also an NSC side that was dedicated to adding a second. Immediately following the second half whistle Michael Reed had a sharp turn and tried to play in Daniel Rios. The intent was clear, Gary Smith’s side didn’t want to rest on a 1-0 lead. Rios had another attempt on the box taken off of his foot by Riverhounds centerback Joe Greenspan. Minutes later Bradley Bourgeois worked hard to win an NSC corner and this was the set piece that followed.

I want to take a quick minute to note just how massive the performances from the center-backs were in this match. We’re going to get to the goals scored shortly, but without the efforts from Bourgeois and Tribbett in the offensive end (2G 1A) there would have been no lead to squander. Yes, you can sit there and say, “why are we relying on defenders for chance creation” but the truth is we’re going to need goals like this over the course of the season. It was a great effort from both of those guys going forward tonight, and honestly for those two this is an EXTRA cruel result. But on we go.

Following the 2nd goal it was steady as she goes for Nashville for just about twenty minutes. But in the 85th Pittsburgh started getting forward in numbers that it hadn’t all game and for the first time Nashville didn’t have an answer. Anthony Velarde beat Doyle and Tribbett to the end line and played a dangerous ball across that Robbie Mertz pushed just over the bar. The next attempt wouldn’t be so fortuitous for NSC.

We’ll break this down further in a chalkboard session, but as you can see there are multiple chances to close down the ball that aren’t seized and that leads to a falling deflection (diving header?) from the sub Volesky. At this point the goal seemed like an unfortunate break in a performance that was deserving of a clean sheet that appeared just a few moments away. But that wasn’t the case. Bolstered by the goal and the home crowd behind them Pittsburgh wasn’t done.

First, Kerr (who became Riverhounds all time assist leader via this play) had all the time in the world to pick his spot and deliver a cross. It was a great effort from Kerr to get onside and into space, but Davis either appeared to have lost the man or not taken into account the time to close him down. The cross was well taken and proved deadly with Ryan James drifting into an acre of space beyond Mensah before deflecting his attempt off Kimura and in. Coach Smith had the following to say on the equalizer.

“I am not quite sure how the second goal is constructed, or how they are allowed to be in that position. I am almost certain I am going to see poor recovery area, a lack of awareness in vital moments to see the game out. This really isn’t about tactics or construction of the team. The job is done. This is about guys knuckling down and getting the final moments done and getting us through. It comes down to experience and wherewithal and inner strength to see the game through. Tonight, we weren’t able to.”

I think Gary hit the nail on the head there. The game plan had clearly worked to a level that almost no one was expecting. This was only the second time ever that Riverhounds had trailed by more than one goal at home. This was about seeing out a result, and that came down to the guys on the field. The concerning point has to be that whether it be Lancaster not working to close out Dover, Davis losing Kerr in space, or Mensah failing to use his fresh legs to support Kimura in marking James, all three Nashville subs were involved directly in the Riverhounds goals.

As I said in my tweets post game:

At the end of the day it’s a mixed bag. For my money, this game contained the best 87 minutes that NSC has played all year. It also contained 6 of the worst. I had NSC down to secure a point in this match and still believe that was all we really had to do here. But the way it went down has left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone from Gary all the way to the fans.

With upcoming matches against Atlanta, Tampa and Swope Park the road forward doesn’t get any easier. In what is shaping up to be maybe the most competitive eastern conference ever, each point is going to count and you simply cannot squander two goal leads with three minutes left in regulation. Make no mistake, this was a response when compared to the performance last weekend. It just was a response that proves this team is still a work in progress and nowhere near the team we think they could become down the road.


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